lemonade, anyone?

There’s that saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Haha, we laugh. Sure. I don’t even like lemonade, but you got it.

Life has given me a lot of lemons over the past ten years.

Yeah, yeah. “Look for the positive — focus on the good!” Isn’t that the other phrase we hear? Easy to say, much easier said than done.

But still we try. Or at least we move on. Or at least we keep getting up every morning, putting two feet on the floor, and shuffling towards the door. We go through the motions without a clear picture of where we’re going — just knowing that this is what we’re supposed to do, this is how to escape the fog and move towards the light.

Someday things will make sense.

We hope.

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Stairway into the fog at Dalmaji Hill, Busan, South Korea, taken on my trip in 2011.

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A detail I never fully explained was why, as a California native, I chose to go to graduate school in Tennessee. Sure, I like Tennessee (I did go to college here), but . . . Move away from my family? Move back to the humidity? Why would any fine-haired new aunt choose to do that? (My hair is incorrigible here, and I miss my nephew so much!)

A simple reason: finances. When I was looking into graduate school, I knew I couldn’t afford to do it on my own. I didn’t want to go deep into student loan debt, so I looked into programs with assistantships that offered funding. UT was one of these, and when I was accepted, I was thrilled. But there was a catch. I’d been accepted to the program, but I hadn’t been offered funding.

Well, damn.

So last April I flew to Tennessee and met with the program’s director and, together, we hatched a crazy plan. I’d move to Tennessee, start school on my own, and reapply for funding in spring. If I got it, I’d be fully funded for the following two years. If I didn’t, well . . . I’d be back to square one.

Well — deep breath — go.

Fast-forward one year and here I am in Tennessee and for months I’ve been waiting to hear if I got funding. I wasn’t on the initial offer list (that was heartbreaking), but as everything shook out, I found out recently that I was, in fact, offered funding for next year.

There is a God, lol.

No, seriously. I’ve had my doubts.

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An optimistic view of Knoxville, looking west. Taken on a ride a couple days ago.

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It’s been all sunshine here in Knoxville for the past couple of days, and yesterday on my drive to class — in my beloved 18-year-old Jetta, sunroof open and windows rolled down — I couldn’t help feeling something I haven’t felt in a very long time: optimistic. I’m still scared sh*tless most days. The future is murky and there’s still sadness behind and a resistance to letting go and always the very real chance of being let down again (and again, and again and again and again). But somewhere in there I hope tenacity is rewarded. Grit is its own strength. And life experience — in all of its varieties — is what connects us.

It’s what’s connected me to you.

Lemonade? Anyone?

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*Lemonade image credit to Smirnoff.com

the ragnar report

I should have written this post a few days ago. I tried. But this darn thing called “work” kept getting in the way.

Ragnar was amazing. I didn’t expect it to be. In fact, in the weeks leading up to the event, I was worried about sleep deprivation and missing work and school and wondered why I’d signed up.

What is Ragnar? you might ask. Up until a year ago, I had no idea, either. Ragnar is a multi-stage, point-to-point relay race in which teams of 12 runners (or fewer, if you’re crazy) cover 200ish miles in one straight shot. Teams typically split up between two vans and stagger shifts of runners. Van 1 has runners one through six; Van 2 has runners seven through twelve. When your van isn’t running, it’s either eating or sleeping — or trying to! Ragnar Tennessee goes from Chattanooga to Nashville and covers everything from mountain climbs to farmland to city scapes. It was an amazing way to see Tennessee, but even more, it was an opportunity to meet some incredible people.

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Outside the Blue Chair coffee shop after our first run

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wide awake

The night before the race, late. Too late to write; too late to sleep.

If only you knew,
How often I think of you . . . 

How many sleepless nights,
How many thoughts per hour, day, week . . .

If I had time to write all my thoughts, I’d have written a book by now — a blog post a day, maybe two.

Instead my thoughts are scattered; my time, full.
I’m off on adventures, trying to forget you,
Looking for the day I no longer think of you.

After all, you’ve forgotten me.

(A bunch of poetic lines, just erased, which didn’t rhyme or have a real place.)

Yes, somehow I’ll get through.
I’ll find the new me,
I’ll find a way . . .

But I’ll always miss you.

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I’m running Ragnar Tennessee this weekend with a group of friends and acquaintances from college. The race covers the nearly 200 miles between Chattanooga and Nashville, with each team member covering three legs totaling anywhere from 14 to 21(ish) miles each. It’s an overnight race. You don’t stop until you reach your destination. It’s going to be cold. It might thunderstorm. It’s going to be exhausting. It’s going to be fun.

When in doubt, pedal (or run) it out. It’s always worked for me!

(Hope all of you out there are gearing up for a good weekend — and hopefully get more rest than me!)

happy haphazard holidays

Well everyone, I suppose I can’t — or at least shouldn’t — put this off any longer. (Actually, I haven’t been putting it off — I’ve been slammed . . .) The time has come to wish you all a happy holiday season. So, Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas!! My holiday decor in Tennessee is pretty simple this year; I flew to California this past Monday, so there was no reason to go “all out” 2,000-plus miles away. Still, it’s nice to do something . . .

 

 
In an effort to get into the holiday spirit before leaving Tennessee (it had/has been a rough few weeks), two Friday nights ago I participated in the Tour de Lights Knoxville holiday bike ride. It was a 5-mile loop in downtown Knoxville for which many people decorated their bikes with Christmas lights and garland and dressed up in costumes, etc. It was fun, but it was COLD! It was 29 degrees and my hands were freezing by the time the ride was done. Next year I’ll cheer from the sidelines.

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Since then it’s been a whirlwind. I went to Santa Rosa on Tuesday to see friends and to work in my office, and, last night, before I headed home (to the fam), I went out to see some of the fire damage. It was too dark to take pictures, but the scene was unreal. My heart is broken for the whole community. Here are just a couple pics from a hike I did at a local park the previous day with friends. These don’t even begin to do justice to the extent of the structural damage in the city. Those who lost their homes (there are thousands) are looking at a rough holiday season this year.

Yesterday (Christmas Eve’s Eve) was eventful, too. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say life tough sometimes. (Or, all the time? The jury is still out for debate.)

In any event, I apologize for this haphazard post, but it’s the best I can do under the circumstances. I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas! I’ll touch base again soon!

xoxo,

Jess

 

our little secret

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Downtown Denver

I’m about to tell you a secret. But only if you promise not to laugh. And only if you don’t tell my friends on facebook.

Last Friday night I went to friend’s wedding in Denver, Colorado. Last Friday night, five minutes before the ceremony started, I totaled my rental car — right in front of the wedding venue.

It was one of those days when, up until that moment, everything seemed to be going well. I’d caught up with an old friend the night before and run a decent 7.5 miles in downtown Denver earlier that day. It was beautiful out, and I was proud of myself for making the trip. (The bride, Jen, is one of my oldest friends, and though Denver isn’t next door to Tennessee, her wedding was something I couldn’t miss.) I even managed to get ready on time and felt pretty in my dress. (Sadly, this is not always the case.) My only concern as I approached the venue that evening, then, was . . . parking.

The wedding was at a beautiful art gallery in downtown Denver. The gallery didn’t have a parking lot, though, and so the closer I got (thank you, Siri), the more I started looking for street-side parking. And the more I started looking for street-side parking, the greater at risk I (apparently) became for making a mistake.

I made a mistake.

I entered an intersection crossing a one-way street without seeing a stop sign — or the oncoming traffic. In fact, I never saw it. In the blink of an eye my world went from silence and Siri to screeching breaks, crunching metal, ssss-ing smoke, and inanity inside my head. Oh my god, oh my god . . . What just happened?

When my car came to a halt in the middle of the road (right beside the venue), I was in shock. The rental car, the rental car, the rental . . . Jen’s wedding is starting, Jen’s wedding is starting — I looked at the clock — in seven minutes. This can’t be real; this can’t be . . . Oh no, oh no, oh no. In all my life and seventeen years of driving, I had never been in a “real” car accident until that moment. I had no idea what to do.

A crowd had gathered on the sidewalks. People, many of whom were involved in the wedding, were calling out to me. “Are you okay?” Their voices came as if from within a fog. Finally a man in street clothes caught my attention; he made a downward motion with his hands and pointed to my window. “Oh- ohhh.” I suddenly understood. The front end of the car was gone, but my power windows still worked. I rolled mine down.

“Are you okay?” he asked, concerned.

“Ye-, yes, I’m okay.”

“Can you walk?”

“Ye-,” I nodded.

“You might want to get out. The car is leaking fluids pretty badly.”

“Ohh . . .” I was barely functioning.

“Can you put the car in neutral? Maybe we can push it to the side of the road?”

I put the car in neutral and got out and watched as several men pushed it across the road. I was mortified.

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On the tow truck.

Things got worse before they got better. I’d been hit by a red Ford F150. After hitting me, the truck had spun sideways across the road and suffered significant damage. A rear tire was blown. The front end looked like it’d been mauled. The driver was on his cell phone on the sidewalk, and at first I thought we were the only ones involved. When I finally had enough sense to walk over towards him, however, I saw that two other cars had also been hit. A Mercedes sat beside the road with its rear end smashed in. The car in front of it had been damaged, too. Someone said that they belonged to people involved in the wedding. Ohh nooo . . . Then someone said they belonged to the groom’s parents. OH NOOOO!!!!

I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.

But I was freezing. While the police reports were filed and phones calls made and insurance information exchanged, the sun had gone down. Colorado is cold at night in November, and I hadn’t been prepared to stand out in it in my dress. The driver of the truck was very kind and offered me his coat. “That truck is my baby; I’d just put new tires on it,” he mused. “But it’s okay; they’re called ‘accidents’ for a reason. I’m just glad everyone’s okay.”

I couldn’t accept his coat, though. Not after what I’d just done. I shivered instead.

I missed the wedding — watched the kiss from outside the gallery’s clear glass windows — and called the rental car company to report the incident and request a tow during the reception. Friends and loved ones gave me rides home and to the airport the next morning, and at the end of the day, I knew I should be thankful things weren’t worse: medical bills on top of insurance deductibles would just about break me right now. But sometimes it’s hard to be thankful; sometimes you just wish you could turn back time. My pride was wounded, and my mistake had caused great misfortune to others. Even now, trying to retell my story, my eyes well up with tears — and I don’t cry.

Next up: This one will be for you, Sreejit. I’ll email you!

A few pics from Denver and the wedding:

 

random updates on life

Ahh! It’s been a crazy few weeks.

Since we last talked, I’ve:

  • Visited friends in California and seen the damage from the fires in Santa Rosa. The devastation is unreal. Although tragedies like this happen around the world every day, this one hits particularly close to home for me. It will take years for my old community to rebuild.

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Also, if you’re on facebook, check out this link of the overview of the damage of Coffey Park, a neighborhood I lived near that was completely destroyed by the fire.

  • Surprised my dad by showing up in Sacramento for a fund-raising ride for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, which my family was doing in honor of my nephew, Oliver.

(Don’t think I’ve mentioned it on my blog, but my six-month old nephew has cystic fibrosis. This was a surprise to the whole family — no one in our family history on either side has ever had the disease. It’s quite rare and requires both parents to be carriers. It’s really unfortunate and shocking for us all. That said, Oliver has stolen our hearts and is doing well so far!)

Since returning to Tennessee, I’ve:

  • Completed my first ever academic book review (and probably bombed it).
  • Questioned my life decisions and choice of a masters program. (Prayers appreciated!)
  • Attempted to write more poetry and failed miserably. (Not giving up, though. Maybe I should get a masters in poetry so I have more time to work on it?)

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  • Seen my first concert in years (Blind Pilot) and discovered an amazing British guitarist/vocalist, Charlie Cunningham. (Check out his song “In One Out” below.)
  • Decided to move to the UK — lol . . . no, seriously.
  • Become completely fed up with American society as a whole — oh wait, that’s not new.
  • Found out that a college friend my age passed away yesterday at the age of 33. Life is too short, folks. Embrace it  — even the sucky parts.

(More soon!)

on the road to a new life

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Already tired but ready to get this show on the road.

When I was 18, when most of my friends went just two hours away from home, I drove 2,500 miles for college. It was a scary time, and an exciting one. I’d lived in the same small town in Northern California my entire life. I was ready to see something new.

In many ways, that decision was a turning point and a defining moment in my life. This small town girl was exposed to a whole new world — Chattanooga, Tennessee was nothing like Placerville! You see . . . Where I came from, a “hog race” would indicate a pig race not a Harley race. Thunderstorms happened only rarely (and only during winter) at home. “Y’all” and “you’uns” were not in the dictionary. And grits? Fried okra? Sweet tea? Huh?

In many ways, it was like being in a new country, with the only difference being that English (albeit Southern English) was the written and spoken language, and I didn’t stick out everywhere I went — that is, until I opened my mouth.

In embarking on our recent journey from Tennessee to California, Jon and I created something of a reverse culture shock for him — and taken it to a whole new level. If Placerville was nothing like Chattanooga, Chattanooga is on a different planet from Berkeley! From rural Signal Mountain where Jon could recognize friends by the sounds of their cars passing on a two-lane highway, we’ve moved to busy University Avenue, where traffic never stops and our closest friends live several hours away!

The best example I can think of regarding the difference between living in a small town versus a big one, however, occurred while waiting in line at Comcast the other day. Jon and I were waiting to pick up our Internet modem when a large African American woman began a loud telephone conversation in line behind us. “. . . Hey, yeah. Yeah, I’m jes’ out payin’ bills. Yeah, I know. Jes’ remember we can’t affor- no f***-ups. I . . . Yeah, I’d like to see you, too, but I’ve jes’ been so bi-sy . . . Nobody gives me no respect. You hear that? No-body. Everybody is always disrespectin’ me and the way I raise my keeds and trying to tell me what to do. And so you know what? I’m gon’ re-move myself from the situation. I’m jes’ gon’ go away so there ain’t no one can find me no more. If they don’t respect me, I’m jes’ gon’ go away . . .”

Oh, boy.

Below are pictures from our road trip across the country. We drove the northern route, through Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada. It was a beautiful drive, but man am I glad that it’s over. I cannot stand sitting in a car for hours on end!

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At Jon’s before we left — that’s a scooter and three bikes on the back of that truck!

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Hello Illinois!

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Can’t forget the St. Louis Arch.

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Because my friend Jeff lives in Nebraska, I’ll go ahead and say it’s an awesome place. Otherwise, I’d just say it’s flat!

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Old barn somewhere along the way.

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Jon contemplating our truck’s sagging hind end at a gas station. That scooter was heavy!

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Hello, Wyoming.

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Light at the end of the tunnel.

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I heart clouds.

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Electricity.

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Somewhere in Wyoming.

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Snow-swept.

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Boulders in Wyoming.

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Snow!

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Salt Lake City area.

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Salt Lakes, Utah

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Wind-blown and worn out

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She’s still holding up!

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Sky meets salt.

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Jon was excited about this.

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Getting closer.

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Driving, driving, driving.

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Almost home.